In class last week someone mentioned Marie Antoinette saying “Let them eat cake.” I have, of course, heard hundreds of times that she said this, and have never questioned it, but suddenly my bullshit detector, which grows keener with each passing day, went off, and I said to myself, “You know what, I have no knowledge about this topic whatsoever, but that just sounds like bullshit to me. I bet she never said that.” I just looked it up and I was right. The phrase was already a commonly used joke when she was 10 years old, though it was later attributed to her by her enemies. In the course of this research I also discovered that lots of other things I believed are also not true. Did you know that: Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” is grammatically flawless. “Ring around the Rosie” has nothing to do with the black plague. The F-word is not an acronym for “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.” Neil Armstrong did not say “Good luck, Mr. Gorsky.” Also, I already knew these last two, but I’m getting really sick of hearing them, so please never repeat them in my presence. The flush toilet was not invented by Sir Thomas Crapper, and NASA did not spend $12 billion to develop a zero-gravity pen while the Russians just used a pencil.
I’m currently #7 on Fictionwise’s Best Selling Authors: Recent list.
Went to see George Galloway last night at a church up on Willshire. It was an enormous church, and the place was packed. Hundreds and hundreds of people. Galloway was superb. He talked for over an hour (without notes) about the current international situation, and was by turns hilarious, heartbreaking, and rousing. Unfortunately, he was bookended by some stuff that wasn’t so much fun.
Doors opened at 6:00 and he was supposed to go on (I thought) at 7:00. I ordered a ticket online. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to battle my way up Vermont, so I left around 5:00 p.m. (having earlier retrieved my car from the parking center to go grocery shopping). Vermont at rush hour was hell. As far as I can tell, there are no green arrow left turn signals anywhere in Los Angeles. Since traffic flow is continuous, if you want to turn left you have to pull into the middle of an intersection, wait for the light to turn red, then quickly go before the stopped cross traffic can start moving. This means that about two cars can turn left per green light, so if you’re the eighth car in line, as I was, you’re going to be there a while.
Finally I found parking, but it was still only about 5:30 p.m. I was one of the first people there. I got in the line for preordered tickets and gave the guy my name. He couldn’t find me on the list. He went off to consult higher powers. The line froze behind me and started to swell. Nothing happened. Finally the guy came back and told me to stand aside, then he disappeared again. Much later he came back and asked, “Did you order your ticket recently?” I said, “This morning.” He said, “That explains it,” in a tone like I had done something wrong. His list of names had been printed out last night, so I wasn’t on it. But he swore that the updated list was on its way. I had to wait longer. I thought this was silly. Couldn’t they just take my word for it that I’d paid? Did they imagine I was some super-spy who somehow knew that their name list would be incomplete and was trying to bluff his way past the desk to avoid paying $13? Finally they let me past.
At that point, the church was still practically deserted, so I got a front row seat. Then I waited. And waited. Did some more waiting. Around 7:00 p.m., they made an announcement that due to the bad traffic they were delaying the start of the program until 7:30. More waiting. By then I was really ready for some hot Galloway action and then a quick exit. But first there were four opening acts, who each spoke for about twenty minutes. They weren’t bad, but the delay was maddening. By the time Galloway actually appeared on stage, it had been almost four hours since I left my apartment. Anyway, Galloway, like I said, was great. (He had better be, after that wait.)
But then would come the dreaded Q&A session. One guy, a Native American activist, couldn’t wait, and started addressing the crowd while Galloway was still talking. Security came over and encouraged him to sit down. Galloway kept saying, “Peace be with you, brother.” Finally the guy sat down. Galloway offered to answer four questions, but the first six people he called on (including the Native American guy; don’t ask me why he called on him) came up to the lectern to deliver long, incoherent diatribes instead of asking questions, so Galloway kept calling on people, desperate for someone who would actually ask a question. Finally he got a couple sort-of questions, tied them together into a closing statement, and called it a day.
Today I wrote an essay about Gladiator for class, attended the first meeting of the newly-formed USC Literary Association, and went over to the bookstore to buy a USC T-shirt. I picked one out, and was holding it up in front of me before the mirror when a random girl walked by and exclaimed, “Looks good!” So I bought it. Obviously.
Apparently Keane gave a free concert yesterday over by Tommy Trojan. I probably would’ve gone if I’d heard about it, but it wasn’t announced on the USC website until … today. Thanks, guys. But it’s probably just as well. I would’ve been that guy in back constantly shouting, “Play Somewhere Only We Know!” or, as I think of it, The Only Song By You That I Know. And reportedly they didn’t play it until last, which I would’ve found frustrating, though I guess I can’t blame them. If they played it first, all the people like me would leave right away.
I awoke this morning to a fierce thunderstorm. I thought I must still be dreaming. Before this, not a drop of rain had fallen since I arrived in L.A. Someone told me that rain is so infrequent here that Subway stores give out free sandwiches as a promotion whenever it rains. I find this extremely difficult to believe, but it’s a good urban legend, so I’m doing my best to spread it. I’m too lazy to actually locate a Subway and test this out, but if anyone tries it, let me know how it goes. You never know. I did once get a bunch of free sandwiches plus an enormous bag of slightly stale cookies from Subway (but only because the girl who worked there had a crush on me).
I’m going to try to get tickets for Thursday to go see George Galloway speak. He’s the colorful British MP who bitch-slapped the U.S. Senate over their handling of Iraq.
My stories “They Go Bump” and “The Trial of Thomas Jefferson” are now on sale at Fictionwise. Those are the last of the 10 I’ve sold to Fictionwise so far. As of this morning, people have bought more than 200 copies of my stories, pushing my payment due to over $25, which means Fictionwise should be cutting me a check any day now (they pay in increments of $25). And yeah, I have noticed that $25 is half the cost of a parking ticket around here, thanks. When Heinlein sold a story to John W. Campbell’s Astounding, he was paid enough to buy a car or a pool, which has always seemed to me like much more equitable compensation for a story you spent three months working on, but I don’t run the universe, more’s the pity.
Last week I found a science fiction group at USC on Facebook. I posted a note asking if anyone around here ever meets up to write or discuss science fiction. One guy responded, saying that a few people get together in his dorm to watch the new SCI-FI Channel series Battlestar Galactica, and sometimes stick around afterward to discuss science fiction. I’d never seen the show, but I’d heard good things about it, so I decided to drop by.
I was supposed to call the guy to let me into his building, but I couldn’t since I’d destroyed my cell phone. These dorms require you to swipe your card to get in and to use the elevator or stairs. I had to hang around looking as studentish as possible and follow people through the doors, infiltrating the building in much the same way as (in retrospect) Cylon agent Number Six … only sexier. It wasn’t hard. I didn’t even have to resort to my more devious gambit — swiping my card (which I know isn’t going to work) and exclaiming, “What the hell? My card’s not working. Is yours?”
The “group” to watch the show turned out to be just me and the guy I’d talked to. This is honestly exactly what I was expecting. If my long sad experience with school clubs and humanity has taught me anything, it’s that if an activity is even the slightest bit smart or interesting, no one will show. Though the guy claimed that there were usually more people — including an actual girl.
Anyway, Battlestar Galactica is super cool. (The guy loaned my some DVDs with a bunch of episodes on them.) The new show has only the most tenuous connection to the ’70s TV show of the same name, which is a very good thing if my hazy recollections of that show are correct. What impressed me most was that the new show doesn’t shy away from forcing characters to make tough decisions. I also really liked that the future humans are polytheists, while the invading robots are monotheists. The first season comes out on DVD on Tuesday, and I recommend checking it out.
I also ended up randomly talking to another student in the dorm, who’s taking a class in science fiction. I contacted the professor, and I’m going to meet with him next week to talk about his approach to teaching sf and see if maybe I can sit in on a class.
Drove over to Santa Monica yesterday to go rollerblading along the beach. Someone told me there’s a mall on 4th street where you can park free for 3 hours, and I wanted to try it out. After I skated, I was skipping around in the surf for a while. I wasn’t really intending to go for a dip, but a surprisingly powerful swell tripped me up. (Later a lifeguard was yelling at people not to go too deep, because there was a storm surge warning in effect, or something.) Then I realized I still had my cellphone in my pocket. My cellphone is now history. If you try to turn it on, the screen flickers piteously then goes dark. If you plug it in, it vibrates continously. What a pain in the ass. I have no other phone here, and I already programmed everyone’s numbers into it. Then I was stuck in traffic for two hours coming home (a 20 minute drive), watching in agony as my $30-a-tank gas burned away into the air. So overall, that trip was less than a total success.
This morning, to cheer myself up, I walked over to the campus bookstore to admire the shelved copies of All the Rage This Year. An undergrad screenwriter I know walked by. I showed her the books, and she was like, “That’s so cool!” and bought one. (The first one anyone’s bought.) So that was pretty cool. Then, within the span of ten minutes, I separately ran into two other people I know, neither of them from my program (since people from my program are never around during the day). I’m starting to feel like a regular BMOC.
In other news, my two horror stories, “The Disciple” (Lovecraftian) and “The Skull-Faced Boy” (zombies), are currently the top two bestselling horror titles at Fictionwise.com. In spite of this, they are still selling noticeably less well than any of my other (fantasy & science fiction) stories. I’d heard that horror was not selling well right now as a genre, but this is the first direct numerical evidence of that that’s crossed my path.
Had my first Academy Series class tonight. We watched Gladiator, then had a Q&A with the guy who wrote it. Gladiator actually seemed a lot better than I remembered. My impressions watching it the first time were that it started out great, but that the final act dragged, and the final battle was anti-climactic. When I watched it on DVD, I found myself fast-forwarding through the dialogue to the action scenes. But watching it tonight, the pacing and balance really seemed fine. Maybe I’m just more accepting now, faced with the prospect of actually writing my own play and screenplay.
The Q&A was awesome. The writer was brutally candid about his experiences, and listening to him talk sure made working in Hollywood sound like hell. He freqently referred to studio execs as “fucking idiots,” and talked about one meeting where an exec asked him, “Could you rewrite it so that Russell Crowe’s character isn’t a gladiator?” He said that in his original script, Maximus returns to his family at the end, but the studio insisted that they be dead and out of the way right from the start, so the director introduced the afterlife concept as a way to preserve that part of the story. The writer was proud that the film portrayed a pagan hero and a pagan afterlife, something that would’ve never been permitted during the Roman epic films of 1950s. He talked about how the idea of Maximus rubbing sand on his palms before each battle came simply from a need to show externally Maximus’s decision to fight and live on after he’s first captured and made a slave. He said that everyone thought Gladiator would flop and ruin Russell Crowe’s career, and that Russell Crowe was furious with them the whole shoot for involving him in this harebrained project, but that that anger came across well on screen.
He also talked about some of his other films, namely Amistad and King Arthur. He said that his Amistad script had survived pretty much unscathed, except that the black slave was supposed to be the hero, and they’d made the white lawyer the hero instead, which he thought was a terrible mistake. He said that King Arthur was the worst experience of his life, because the original script had been brilliant, and they’d turned it into a ridiculous medieval Top Gun.
The funniest moment was when the professor who teaches a class on writing treatments asked him if he’d written a treatment for Gladiator, and he said, “Nah, I never do any of that shit.” He said that if a treatment is really required, he’ll write a first draft and then compress that into a treatment. When asked how he got his foot in the door in Hollywood, his answer started out like, “Well, I was banging this girl at Fox, and she put my script in the filing cabinet where a big-name actor saw it.” I guess that’s good to know.
I’ve spent most of this morning trying to get a working laundry card for the washing machines in my building. This is harder than it sounds. After much toil, I finally located the machine I could use to add money to my laundry card, but it wasn’t working due to a power failure that affected the entire street. I returned to my apartment (the electronic card reader was down so I had to go in through the back) and entered my darkened kitchen. Just then I got a call on my cell phone. My friend Erica asked, “Is your power out?” I said, “Yeah. Is yours?” She said, “I’m actually down in University Village, but yeah, it’s out here. I’ve heard it’s out all over the city, and there are riots and stuff. The guy here says terrorists sent a tape to Fox news yesterday threatening to destroy Los Angeles.”
Suddenly my laundry card woes didn’t seem so pressing. Nothing like a little terrorism-inspired riot to put things in perspective. (This general area is razed during each major riot, so the prospect of a riot is of more than academic interest.) As she continued chatting, I double-locked the door, scanned the alley below for looters, and slid the windows closed to prevent exposure to fallout and/or biological/chemical agents. I contemplated how long my food and water might last. I contemplated what heavy furniture could be stacked against the door to prevent a break-in (though, given the crime around here, that’s actually a fairly common pasttime). With no TV and no power, I couldn’t get any news, so I said goodbye and called home to try to find out what was going on. It turns out that power was out throughout the city, and there was a terrorist tape threat against L.A. yesterday, but there is not actually any rioting, or any reason to believe the outage is terrorism-related. Well that’s a relief.
Now about that damn laundry card…
Update: From CNN: “About 700,000 electric customers in Los Angeles lost power Monday afternoon after a worker mistakenly cut a wrong line, triggering a cascade of problems in the city’s power grid.”
The Intern last night was really exceptional. Whip-smart, erotic, hilarious, and haunting. Even the stage was cool, kind of multi-layered and black with lots of steep stairways. It reminded me of Escher’s “Relativity.” My enjoyment was diminished slightly only by the knowledge that this fabulous piece of theater was playing to an audience that was smaller than the cast, while somewhere a great steel coliseum is groaning under the weight of a hundred thousand NASCAR fans. It’s not just sf writers who get the shaft from society. In the end, I was only able to get one person from my department, Erika, to go with me, but she was terrific company, and became the first vict…er, beneficiary of my George R. R. Martin largess. As we filed into the theater, we noticed a man lying facedown on the stage. Erika said, “Who’s that, do you think?” and I responded, obviously and jokingly, “I think he’s part of the play … not just some random guy,” and then in a funny voice, “Hey Joe, how many times have we told you, ya gotta sleep on the couch.” Ha ha. The actor could probably hear me. Probably some smartass at every show makes some variation on that joke. And speaking of jokes, as we were walking to the theater, a girl outside a comedy club handed us a flyer and said, “Come in sometime. It’s a great show. I pee myself every night watching it.” We laughed. I asked Erika later if she thought that girl ever got sick of telling that same pee joke to everyone who walked by. Erika suggested that maybe the girl had like 5 jokes like that just to mix it up a bit. I suggested we could test that by walking up and down the street repeatedly, but we never did. I guess we’ll never know.
This afternoon I went to a symposium on solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Needless to say, the issue was not solved. I had felt pressure to attend, since the event was co-sponsored by my department, and the head of my department had been handing us all tickets. Apparently, the rest of the grad students are not so susceptible to pressure. Only three MPW students (including me) showed up, and only I made it through the whole event. (Though, to be fair, the other two left after the event had run well past its stated time limit.) Still, three people? Out of 160? I know there are that many because I’ve seen their mailboxes, but I’ve never seen more than about 40 around campus. Where are the rest? Who are they? They’re like grad student dark matter.
Anyway, some of the speakers had interesting insights, but some were really tedious. Despite an early directive that the talk should center on the future and solutions and avoid dredging up the past, one guy spent a solid 20 minutes giving an 8th-grade level history lesson on the conflict, full of such searing historical insights as “Anti-semitism in Europe reached its apex during the holocaust.” Gee, you think? You might imagine that my extensive experience as a panelist at sf conventions would have inured me to public speakers who are going to blather for half an hour without making a point, but in fact my patience threshhold has taken a nosedive. I used to give these guys the benefit of the doubt. Now I recognize them within the first three sentences out of their mouths.
I only stuck around at the end because I was curious what characters the Q&A session would dredge up. I’ve learned through painful experience that not even the sharpest sketch comedy routine can compete for sheer ludicrous risibility with an average member of the public given more than 30 seconds to unload their personal baggage upon an audience. Today brought a woman who commented that how could we expect to be peaceful when we polluted the “temples of our bodies” with the beings we killed, by which I inferred she meant eating meat. Okay, totally irrelevant to the issue at hand, but perhaps a fair point. But then she got in line to speak again, and said, “I didn’t get a chance to say everything I needed to say the first time.” Here’s a tip: if you ever find yourself tempted to speak this line, you have almost certainly said way more than you needed to already. Anyway, this time she said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems intractable now, but we should all take consolation from the fact that the Mayan calendar predicts the dawning of a new age of Aquarius in 2012. At this point, I just couldn’t contain my snickering. Even on her own terms, what she said about the Mayan calendar is totally wrong, and besides, anyone whose civilization has been totally wiped off the face of the earth is automatically disqualified from consideration for “people who could accurately predict the future.”
Midnight Ridazz (actual name) last night was freakin’ awesome. I went with three girls from my program and their friends and girlfriends. We met up around 7:30 at an apartment in Eagle Rock for drinks and pizza, then around 9:00 we carpooled over to the parking lot of Pioneer Chicken in Echo Park. There were several hundred bicyclists there. The theme was “heavy metal,” and lots of the people had crazy outfits. One guy was dressed like a barbarian with a giant papier mache hammer. One guy had welded the frame of one bike on top of another, so that he rode like ten feet off the ground. We set off west down Sunset Boulevard. At each intersection, four or five riders would stop to halt cross traffic and let all the bicyclists past. Many people in cars going the other way rolled down their windows and cheered us or tapped on their horns, and we hollered and waved back.
We turned north onto Hillhurst, past the Scientology church, and I was like, “Hey! I know this street!” Hillhurst was the street I parked on and walked down to get to the Sunset Junction Street Fair. I was really excited that out of all the billions of streets in L.A., I’d randomly ended up riding up one I recognized, though no one else really seemed to share my excitement. We turned east onto Los Feliz, and then south onto a bike path that runs parallel to Riverside Drive. This was the coolest part of the ride. The path runs along a river, and is only sporadically lit, so we were riding in near-darkness, and ahead you could see hundreds of people’s red rear bike lights blinking. Then Fletcher to Ave 36 to Eagle Rock road. I passed an intersection where a cop car had been stopped by the riders, and the cop was saying over his PA system, “Why are you stopping traffic?” I dunno, because there’s a couple hundred of us and we can?
Finally we pulled into the parking lot of a bowling alley. Some guy came out and yelled at us that this was private property and we’d have to move, but everyone ignored him and he went away, though I had to give him credit for trying. I wouldn’t try yelling at two hundred people. The ride was supposed to continue back to where we’d started, but after an hour and a half (it was around 1:00 a.m.) no one was showing any signs of going anywhere. One of our riders had pulled a muscle, and we were only a few blocks from the apartment where I’d parked my car, so we just went back there.
Can’t wait until next month.
The departmental shindig last night was fun. It was worth going just for the bucketfuls of teriyaki chicken skewers. I got dressed up, mostly just because I was bored and haven’t had much chance in L.A. to wear a jacket. Each of the faculty members read something they’d written. The best-received of these, it seemed, was the one by the guy who wrote the Jim Carey movie Liar, Liar. He read a humorous reworking of Poe’s “The Raven,” punning on the name of our department head.
Most grad students in the program live far off campus and only show up for evening classes and never really interact socially with the other students. I think this is insane, since one of the biggest benefits of this sort of program is meeting other people who’ll be working in arts and entertainment. I’ve been trying, with mixed results, to organize people to get together outside of class. There’s an email list for the department, but no one seems to know about it. I couldn’t understand why no one had ever just put a note in every student’s departmental mailbox informing them of the email list, and offered to do so. For making this brilliant suggestion, I was instantly dubbed a member of the “Social Committee.” So this morning I printed up 160 notes and put one in every student’s mailbox. We’ll see if it works. Honestly, even fewer students seem to know about their departmental mailbox than know about the email list, but it’s worth a shot.
Tonight I’ll be going on a midnight group bicycle ride through the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Damn, I am one badass mofo. Yeah, what’s up now, L.A.?
I tried rollerblading to the parking center today, which actually works pretty well. It only takes about 10 minutes to get there as opposed to half an hour walking. (Though then it still takes another 5-10 minutes just to get up to the roof, find my car, and then drive down through seven levels of parking garage.) I took a guy from my program over to the Fox Hill mall (off the 405) so he could get new glasses, since he currently has no car. (He and his brother drove cross country so he could attend school here. A freak wind shear blew them off a road into a ravine. The car rolled over and over and was totaled, but amazingly no one was seriously hurt.)
At the mall bookstore, I discovered that they’ve re-released George R. R. Martin’s magnificent A Game of Thrones in value-priced $3.99 mass-market paperback editions, so I bought a stack of ’em to loan out to anyone here who’ll take one.
Then I had lunch with someone else from the program, though I was a bit late because I couldn’t find parking anywhere in my neighborhood, due to some stupid football game or something, and had to drive all the way back to the parking center and then rollerblade to my apartment.
Tonight there’s a major to-do over at the University Club. Some sort of reception plus faculty members reading their work.
|This Saturday at 8:00 p.m. I’ll be going to see the play The Intern at the Theatre Tribe Studio Theatre (5267 Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood). “When a young female intern turns up missing, a golden boy congressman is caught between his political ambitions and his moral compass.” It was a Critic’s Pick in the L.A. Times. So far I’ve managed to rope one person from my department (hi Erika!) into going with me. I don’t know how many people who live in L.A. actually read this (2? 3?) but if anyone’s interested, you’re welcome to come along, assuming you don’t work for Parking Enforcement. Tickets are $17.50.|
My stories “The Prize” and “The Disciple” are up on Fictionwise this week.
Attended a writing group at the (really nice) house of my playwriting professor this afternoon. I hadn’t thought it would be too hard getting over there by 1:00 p.m. (to the intersection of the 405 and Sunset Boulevard), but I got very little sleep last night, and I got a late start. (I live on a street that faces Frat Row, and last night around 2:00 a.m. it sounded like the apocalypse was happening over there.) Then there’s no parking center tram on weekends, so I had to walk about 45 minutes to the parking center just to get my car. It’s such a pain retrieving my car that by the time I pulled onto the 10 freeway, the prospect of escaping the immediate confines of University Park almost made me feel like the Count of Monte Cristo. Miraculously, I arrived at my professor’s house almost exactly on time. The group was really interesting.
Then afterward we went out to eat at a fancy cafe. I started talking to the guy who gave me a ride, who’s a recent graduate of the MPW program that I’m in. He had read a section of his new nonfiction project. I asked him, “It’s sort of autobiographical?” and he was like, “Yeah. You see, when I first moved out to L.A. when I was 18, I was living with this girl, and then she moved out and for a while she was making $100,000 a year as a mistress of the Sultan of Brunei, then she moved back here and was living with Charlie Sheen, and invited me to move into his guest cottage, and then for a while we were working for this crazy scientist guy who was trying to do genetic engineering on sperm and eggs to create a superhuman race.” And I was like, “You mean, using your sperm?” And he was like, “Yeah. I guess since she was so pretty and he thought I was so talented, he wanted to use our DNA.” We’d been talking about my science fiction earlier, and he said, “So yeah, it sounds like science fiction, but it’s not.” And I was like, “Okay yeah, I’d read that.”
Went rollerblading along the beach in Santa Monica yesterday, and it was everything I dreamed it could be. Lots of people were out on skates, contrary to wildly inaccurate reports I’d received from plainly unreliable sources that “no one rollerblades” around here. I skated down to Venice, where there is a fairly impressive unbroken stretch of tatoo parlors, shops selling “tobacco” products, shops selling beach kitsch, and vagrants. I saw a 60-year-old woman on a skateboard with a sail like a windsurfer, which actually works. I also saw a guy on rollerblades holding just the front wheel, engine, and handlebars of a Harley, which was pulling him along. Then I went and stuck my toes in the Pacific ocean. Finally. I’ve been meaning to do that.
Stories of mine currently hold the #3, #8, and #9 spots in the Fictionwise fantasy bestseller list. Are you getting sick of hearing about this yet? That’s funny, I’m not.
Update: And now it’s #1, #6, and #7, with “Seeds-for-Brains” in the top slot for fantasy.